In Parliament

DA slipping in the publicity rankings?

4 September 2014

Thank heavens that former Leader of the Opposition Tony Leon still has a voice in his column in Business Day. He should be a journalist because few - if any - of the political hacks have noticed how rapidly his old party, the Democratic Alliance, has slipped in the publicity rankings since Julius Malema came to town. He pointed it out graphically in this week’s column.

A seasoned politician-watcher, who prefers not to be named, hit the nail on the head when she said that Malema had – for now at least – effectively evicted Mmusi Maimane as leader of the opposition. Whatever you think of his tactics, Malema has sent 25 shock troops to parliament and they are already making one hell of a statement. It reminds me of when Tony Leon became leader of the tiny - seven-member - Democratic Party (DP) after the first non-racial democratic election. Everyone thought at the time that the Grand Old Party (the Progressive Federal Party which turned into the DP and now DA) of Colin Eglin, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Helen Suzman was, if not dead and buried, well on the way there. The commentators were so wrong. Leon singlehandedly took the party by the scruff of its neck and swept aside the National Party as official opposition in 1999.

What captured the minds of voters - or rather those inclined not to vote for the ANC - was that this tiny party was not scared to ask politically incorrect questions about policy, about corruption, about reverse racism and political bullying even when the almost untouchable President Nelson Mandela was the Big Man at Tuynhuys. Does anyone remember the performance of FW de Klerk when he became leader of the opposition in 1996 when the National Party moved out of the unity government? He was there for just over a year before retiring from politics. Marthinus van Schalkwyk, who took over for two years, has now finally exited the political scene - little remembered, his party imploded and leaving a political legacy of rank opportunism. Even Malema understands the opposition political party recipe of keeping your party in the news and on the political battleground. Does Maimane?

Leon’s piece was headlined DA needs to meet challenge posed by EFF’s antics. Perhaps Leon’s most pertinent point is: What great causes today does the DA stand for? He plays devil’s advocate a bit, asking what inspired the average DA MP? “Is it job security for the next four years? A yearning to change things? A dislike of the ANC or the president? Perhaps all of these things, he suggests. But his point is that the DA appears to be losing its soul, or is in danger of doing so. Too often on key policy issues - the most burning one being affirmative action and black economic empowerment - the DA is more or less in an ideological bed with the ANC. If you are in a 51-49 political outcome, such fudging of ideological barriers makes tactical sense, says Leon. But given the 40 points separating the DA from the ANC, “it does not”.
Nowhere in his piece does Leon mention DA leader Helen Zille directly. But he does say that there is an “asymmetrical problem” faced by Maimane peculiar to his party set-up. “He leads the opposition in Parliament but he does not lead his party outside of it. Whatever the merits of this arrangement originally, it is now way past its sell-by-date.”

I know that there is not a lot of love lost between Zille and Leon, but Leon is probably thinking that Zille needs to come out of hiding in the Western Cape provincial legislature and lead the DA attack on government from Parliament. Having an agent - like Athol Trollip, Lindiwe Mazibuko or Maimane - isn’t working anymore.

The DA leader and its 88 MPs should have been shouting with Malema in Parliament: “Pay back the money!”

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